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Ace of Hearts

March 21 2022 - Ace of Hearts - Red Angel Chapter 1 Revision 1 - 4691 words - G

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Hi everyone,
 
From the first four chapters I got the feedback loud and clear that there wasn't a strong central plot. As such, I've tied together the events of the first eight chapters, condensed them into three, and put them in a situation where it's more clear from the start that bad things are going on. To do this I cut a lot of discussions of character personality and how they fit into the world since those didn't seem to carry much weight on their own without a strong central plot. 
 
Any feedback is welcome, and in addition to general comments I'd like to know:
 
1. I'm leaning more on exposition to set up the world since trying to show character and setting dynamics in scene resulted in both confusion and so much space taken up that there wasn't a clear central story. Is this a good direction?
2. Is what Z shows S strong enough to feel like it's kicking off a central conflict? Would it be better if I contrive something where they catch violence happening in the moment instead?
 
Thanks! 
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Much stronger plot this time around! It helps to hook me in a lot better, especially as we also have the character study with S and Z. We also get an immediate cool bit of worldbuilding with the crystals. Explaining the purple one deepens the mystery for the red one. S and Z play off each other well, and we get the inverted stereotypes of a large butch woman and a small effeminate man without all the discussion about heritage and intersex.

The one thing I noted at the end was that S doesn't have a lot of reaction to the palace being attacked. Is this like a "bring down the monarchy coup" sort of attack or "we damaged the third guest wing" kind of attack?

1) Yes! Some of the prose is clunky, but that's nothing a good edit won't fix.

2) It's not as strong as it could be, but it's in the right direction. I had a note on that below. If they go to the R.A. and see one of the refugees being beaten there, and then find a body later, that would be a lot stronger.

Looking forward to more!

 

Notes while reading:

pg 1: Might split the first sentence into two.

pg 1: "Right in the back corner of the room where she said she was going to be in that mysterious note that showed up in S’s room earlier that day."
--there's a lot of very long explanatory sentences in the first two paragraphs. Cutting adverbs and separating sentences will make it flow better.

pg 3: This is flowing a lot smoother than before and definitely has more plot along with character building. I think another pass on the prose will tighten things up a lot.

pg 4: Good. We have a goal for S.

pg 4: "couldn’t afford to weaken itself even in the name of justice."
--interesting. Seems S is against changes to the system here, but I thought he was for it before.

pg 5: "The angel himself stood on a raised platform in the center of the square"
--well, he's certainly easier to find this time around.

pg 6: "This is what S needed to protect."
--good stakes.

pg 7: “It’s not, and I don’t want this blood money.” 
--Doesn't sound like it's that bad...isn't it donations from the wealthy (under duress...)?
--Edit: explained satisfactorily later.

pg 9: "He explained before that he was no closer to being culturally Sh. than any other X. despite his mother’s heritage and the splotches of lighter skin across his body that marked it."
--a bit awkward.

pg 12: "The R.A. doesn’t beat down on the refugees himself"
--Wait...wasn't he giving out money to the refugees? Or were they the poor people of the city, but not these refugees? Not entirely clear.

pg 13: glad to get some explanation of the crystals and gods. But that also makes the murder scene suspicious. Z found the scene and preserved it for S, but I thought the beatings happened near the R.A.? I guess Z did contact S, however, so that makes sense.

pg 15: Maybe needs some more reaction from S that the palace is being attacked? Is Z starting a coup while S is here?

pg 16: no other thought on how the palace is currently being attacked? I'm wondering what Z's lover has done.

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Overall: I thought this was a much stronger start. I feel like I have a better understanding of where the plot is going, S and Z both have clearer direction, and we’re getting a stronger foundation for their relationship too.

The big thing that was missing for me was a sense of how/how much S feels tied back to the palace. He says he doesn’t have much familial connection to J (anymore?) and his arguments with Z on how to effect change feel more grounded in S’s sense of logic than emotion or his belief in what the right thing is. I guess what I want to know is – does S believe the things he’s saying to Z about working within the system to effect change, and does he feel challenged by Z’s approach to this, other than the fact that it potentially pits him against his sister?

1. I'm leaning more on exposition to set up the world since trying to show character and setting dynamics in scene resulted in both confusion and so much space taken up that there wasn't a clear central story. Is this a good direction?

Yes, I think this is working! I did feel like the exposition was a little “as you know, Bob” at times, with S thinking about things because it was a convenient way for him to explain things to us, but that’s about setup, not that the information isn’t good. There was occasional repetition as well but I think both of these things can be cleaned up at the line level.

2. Is what Z shows S strong enough to feel like it's kicking off a central conflict? Would it be better if I contrive something where they catch violence happening in the moment instead?

I think either could work – I feel this is strong enough to stand on its own once the emotional connections are shored up a bit. It depends partially on the kind of book it is – the current start suggests a somewhat slower burn than jumping right to the violence might, depending on how it’s done. The other thing to keep in mind with jumping into the violence is that we’ll still need enough setup on the refugee piece to understand why it matters.

As I read:

P1 “bladed gauntlets on her hips” as in, tucked into a belt or something?

P4 “...pieced together that behind closed doors Z talked about ushering in change...” Just the fact that she talked about it doesn’t seem like it would require much piecing together. I wonder if this could be connected with some sort of action Z has taken in addition, or something else that S finds ominous, that gives us a better sense of how likely Z is to act on this talk?

P7 “He couldn't’ give up on Z now… After all, S had…” stumbled on this – I wasn’t quite sure of the connection between the two sentences. They don’t seem like related ideas.

“...going to do so in chains.” This could be a good solid scene or chapter ending, but it seems like a new idea – not one the narrative has been setting up so far. To this point, we’ve been focused on S’s fear of Z and what she might do, with a little splash of loneliness. But, this line is the first time we’ve seen S actually fear for her, so the line doesn’t have as much impact as it could.

P8 “S knew that the outer parts of the city were sparsely populated because of…” Another stumble here. I figured out the meaning of the sentence eventually, but it took me a few reads.

“This was where the succession ceremony took place.” Maybe too picky, but since the narrative is already written in past tense, consider shifting to past perfect for something like this where S is remembering something that happened in his past (i.e. “where the ceremony had taken place”). I’ve noticed it in a couple of places and it might help make the transition between S experiencing something and S remembering something a little smoother – right now it’s not always clear when this happens.

P9 “Piles of torn-up cloth” more confusion here. Are these the refugees? Is this referring to their clothes? Or is it debris left around the city?

P10 “away from the refugee camp”

p14 “Any telepath who came across her could…” I like this complication, but in this case, how on earth is she keeping her identity a secret?

Also, I think it might be helpful to lean on the emotions/surroundings of the refugees a little more here. Z and S feel like they’re having an academic argument, for the most part, and the people they’re having this argument about aren’t all that visible for most of this discussion, even though S and Z are standing in their camp.

P15 She is revealing an awful lot to S just here, which seems like a pretty big deal given that they apparently don’t trust each other. Is she doing this on purpose as a ploy? Because she really believes that she and S need to work together? This might be an interesting moment to get more from S’s crystal.

Also, S’s reaction to Z’s apparent belief that the palace could be under attack right now seems very understated, enough that I almost missed the fact that there was an attack on first read.

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Sorry for being late. Spring break got away from me

Overall

There are a lot of major plot elements in here all mashed together. Each one needs space to breathe, and to be foreshadowed before it can have any effect. For an introductory chapter I'd suggest focusing on your two main characters and the emotions surrounding the sister returning, and then pick one major plot element to explore through that. Then seed in hints at these others but don't investigate them for another few chapters. Let the reader get invested in one thing before you toss another on.

As I go

- the first sentence is a touch long. I had to read it twice to sort out what was going on

- pg 2: I'd expect more emotions from S if his sister has been missing for a year and she was perhaps presumed unsafe (since he says 'I'm glad you're safe')

- I'm not sure the red angel should be introduced yet. We don't get a lot of impact from it, and we just got the brother killing event. I'd suggest spending time on that before moving to another plot pivotal thing

- S should emote more. We hear all the emotions he senses but how does he feel about seeing his long lost sister? Did he miss her? Was he worried about her? I get no read on this character and it makes it hard to connect

- pg 7: so there's no poverty anymore and they've solved the people's issues. I'm confused as to what the main plot arc is of the story. I should have a firm grasp of it by this far into the narrative

- the refugees should be discussed well before we see them, since they seem to be important to the plot

- pg 12: I am lost. I need more about the red angel and the refugees before I can really get invested in what is taking place. You might need a prologue where the brothers duel and then one of them maybe gets involved with refugees or something

- pg 14: the crystal thing I don't think I have bandwidth for. I'm still struggling with the red angel and the refugees

- pg 15: Is that my lover is unleashing some sort of preliminary attack on the palace, based on how she told me there was a chance she might not be coming back.” ... <-- wait what now??

 

 

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Way behind on this one. Sorry about that!

Pg 1:

I feel like there’s a lot going on in the first sentence. I like the idea of opening with the psychic empath link, but the interest-factor of that is getting drowned out by the rest of the sentence.

“trick he had picked up from…” 

I like this introduction to Z (focusing on S’s ability).

“…note that had shown up…”  I’ll just let you find other tense issues going forward. Keep an eye out for any time the narrative is focusing on things that happened in the past.

“It made the emotions…” this sentence could be split into two for clarity.

Pg 2:

“normal telepath…” are people able to trick telepaths by intentionally thinking misleading things?  Seems to me like S is able to pick up quite a lot from his own powers, but I do get the frustration with it feeling like a lesser ability.

Pg 3:

“S knew that she meant…” This detail could be introduced a little more smoothly. Even just cutting the “S knew that”.  If it’s in his pov, any detail he’s providing is something he knows (I say. As if I don’t do exactly the same thing far too often)

Similar through this paragraph. A couple of blunt details is fine, but the new terms and names here make it come across clunkier than it would otherwise.  Maybe trim down just to what we need to know here and squeeze in the rest later? I don’t think there’s any issue with getting the exposition this way, but I do think it could be smoothed over a bit.

A couple of tense errors through here.

Pg 4:

“Despite how…” the wording of this is a little clunky.

“After a pause…” I think implying the info in this paragraph through Z’s comments manner before now would be stronger than adding it here. Especially since we haven’t gotten a sense of a problematic theocracy at this point. Showing that through Z’s resentment of it is going to make it stick better than a paragraph summary.  It could probably just be a couple lines.  Someone doing something or a cultural expectation that really defines that theocracy, and having Z grumble about it or be visibly bothered by it.

 

By definition, “theocracy” isn’t quite accurate. There being an HR and princes/princesses implies that it’s still a monarchy, even if it’s a very religiously motivated one. Maybe a theocratic monarchy? I just don’t like that as a term because it blurs the lines of where the ultimate authority is supposed to be coming from.  And if said government is abusive, I think it’s important to determine whether it’s the deity or the king that is the problem. Unless that distinction is something you’d be planning to address at some point in the story, in which case you’re probably alright to sort of conflate the terms or have the characters use not-quite-accurate terms.

In a true theocracy, the ultimate authority is the deity, with prophets representing the deity to the people (bringing messages from the deity) and priests representing the people before the deity (ensuring that the people aren’t offending the deity. Performing whatever rituals might be required, etc.). There isn’t really a place for a royal family in that sort of theocractic structure.

I think most readers would understand what you mean by theocracy, since it tends to get erroneously lumped in with the ideas certain religious subgroups aim for, but it’s an area where you’ll want to be really careful of the terms you’re using. Conflating the two ideas can get…dicey if your story is going to spend a lot of page-time addressing the issues of problematic religious-motivated governments.

Feel free to poke at that more if you’d like further thoughts, but I’ll leave it there for now.

I like the final line of the scene.  Just need a little more setup for it.  And to make sure the terms are correct.

Pg 5:

“behemoth” seems off to me tone-wise from S, because it comes across as an insult when it’s used to define how she doesn’t fit the expected gender norm (and tends to read as monstrous). If S has also run into situations where he doesn’t fit expected gender norms (which I’m assuming, based on previous versions, but you may have changed some of that) I’d expect him to be especially sensitive to that sort of terminology.  If there was some sort of social perception that Z was some giant monster because she’s taller than other women, you’ll probably want to make sure that the phrasing specifies who has that perception.  S? Or the people around them?

 

Pg 6:

“god and his angel” So…is the RA human?  What’s depicted here seems more like a prophet or priest.  I’d expect something more supernatural for an angel.

Jot this down in the things almost no one but me cares about, but I’m wondering where our RG term/name comes from. Because these are the things I wonder about in my free time (I’m really fun at parties)

The RA seems to be an official title associating them with the RG, so that checks out.
Is RG the god’s official name? Are there non-red gods that are also acknowledged? Is it some sort of nickname? Trying to figure out what the modifier accomplishes and what it says about the deity and the rules of the religion.  
Is it a sort of whispered reference because it’s impure to utter the deity’s true name?
Is it a description/title to distinguish it from other deities?

Is it the official name? If so, why the modifier? What is it distinguishing the god from, and why is the redness important? What does it add to the god-ness of the RG?

I’m sure the following is lacking depth, because I’m referencing the internet and not a Biblical Hebrew expert, but as a comparison, terms used for the Judeo Christian God that include modifiers are things like “Elohim”- God, the creator. “El Sheddai”- Almighty God. “El Olam” – Eternal God.  They’re treated as proper names in English, but ultimately, they’re descriptions emphasizing what the people find worthy of worship.

Just things to think about while worldbuilding the religion. We don’t need to get this described thoroughly in-text here (unless I’m your only reader), but the characters’ understanding of the deity should be reflected in how they refer to it/them. Especially in casual use.

“giving out money…” whose money?

“Could have done without…” wording is a little confusing.’
“They’re scared of the RA…” why? What happens if the RA decides this? This ties back into how people regard the religion. Is handing over money a matter of respecting their religious duties? Is there something more actively threatening their health, wealth, and well-being?

Pg 7:

Do we know why she’s calling it blood money? S doesn’t seem to challenge her on the wording, even though he seems to be fine with the system.

Pg 8:

More tense issues.

Oh hey. An answer to one of my nit-picky religion questions. Feel free to ignore the rambling on that topic above. I’d gotten the impression that the RG was their primary deity (or that it is enough of a primary deity for X- people (these are the locals?) to consider him their only god).  I’m sure I’ll have further nit-picky religion thoughts to offer later :) 

Pg 9:

How much ability does S actually have to do anything for the refugees, and how much ability does Z think he has? The “you neglected the people…” suggests that S, himself is at fault, but I hadn’t gotten the impression that he has been doing any of the decision-making.

Pg 10:

“…to say he didn’t speak it…”  Learning a language might be difficult, but memorizing a phrase or two isn’t.

Pg 11:

I don’t have a good sense of how much S actually cares about the refugees. He seems to say that he’s sympathetic, and he’s describing the emotions of the refugees, but I’m not actually getting his emotions about their conditions and situation. 

So the titles/colors of the gods have some association with the crystal colors. I think. I like that idea. Is this common knowledge among the people?

I will say I’m still finding the god-names a sticking point, because I overthink names and I overthink religion-building details. So the point where those cross is bound to be a mess.  If they have well-known character-color associations, I’d think knowing the gods as “The Great Empath” or “The Great Telepath” or whatever is relevant for the other deities would be more intuitive for how the people would refer to them.

Dead body in the desert? I assume we’d smell it before we saw it. Not sure there would be a good way to “preserve” it for very long under the current conditions.

Also, wasn’t S’s idea to go see the RA, which then led to Z wanting to show the contrast of the refugees? So how was she planning to get him over there to go see the body before it started decomposing. Might be worth adding a comment when she leads him to the refugees along the lines of “I meant to show you anyway, but now it’s even more important that you see it.”

Pg 12:

I have questions about the RA and why he’s spending his free time wandering around refugee camps…seems like he would have more important things to be doing…

I like the religion detail here a lot, but it could be smoothed over a bit. Especially like the distinction of the L people not believing in the other races’ deities.   That definitely feels like a realistic outcome to have in a setting where different races are “represented” (not sure if that’s quite the right word, but it’s the closest I can think of) by different deities. 

Do we get to know what ability the red crystals enable? Are “psychic” powers different from “telepath” powers?  My initial thought upon reading was that telepathy and empathy were subsets of the possible psychic powers, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

Also, this knowledge that the RG and RA aren’t really supposed to be in H makes me wonder why S (or really, the city as a whole) isn’t far more concerned with the RA’s presence there.  Especially if they’re generally associated with conquest, and aren’t known for being friendly toward the other deities.  Seems to me like a pretty quick jump for people to make  that the L people want to take over H and wipe out the other religions.

Pg 15:

“My guess…” Not sure why Z seems to be almost gloating about this point? Also, this line makes it feel like the chapter has taken a sharp turn here.  I wonder if it would help to have S pick up on some uneasiness or impatience or something from Z earlier on or have him say that he needs to get back, but she distracts him with something else. Something to imply that she’s hiding something or keeping him away from something.

“lover” I assume that if same-sex relationships are illegal, there’s also likely to be a good deal of frowning upon “lovers” among those who are unmarried? Z may not care, but I assume there would be some social conditioning to avoid the term. And S being an empath gives him an easy way to read beyond the use of a term like “partner” or an awkward “my—a friend of mine—is unleashing…”

 

Overall:

This is a huge improvement over the previous opening, in my opinion.  I have a much better picture of the setting, character, and conflicts from reading this than I have had from other chapters. And all in one chapter instead of spread over several. Nice improvements.

1.     Overall, I think the exposition works really well.  There are a couple spots where the prose could use an editing pass to make the text smoother (I think clunky spots are a little more exposed in exposition sections), and a couple spots where accompanying exposition with character reactions could make it stronger, but there’s definitely a lot less getting bogged down this way.

2.     I think catching violence happening in the moment would be stronger. And would also stop my whining about bodies decomposing in desert environments.

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